Cars develop ESP for winter
September 19, 2005
In the middle of a blizzard, many drivers have experienced the helpless feeling of trying to brake as the car simply slides until friction or another object stops it.With the flakes flying soon, drivers in certain new vehicles will have a new way of combating the sickening slide. These cars literally have ESP.The radical technology, dubbed electronic stability control or electronic stability program (ESP), essentially prevents cars from losing control on ice and snow. ESP is becoming more commonplace, and that is good news for Aspen police. Fender-benders during rush hour take up a good deal of officers’ time during snowstorms, said Sgt. Bill Linn of the Aspen Police Department.
He said that tourists, unsure of how to drive on ice, and also overconfident locals contribute to accidents. ESP will likely help reduce the number of crashes that Linn and other police officers have to respond to.Mark Phelan, auto critic for the Detroit Free Press, said the technology was introduced about six years ago in high-end luxury cars.”It’s just now working its way into higher volume cars and SUVs,” Phelan said. “It’s been around, but not a lot of people are familiar with it.”He compared the innovation to anti-lock brakes, a feature that turned out to be so useful that it is now standard. Ford is making ESP standard on all of its SUVs, he said.The technology doesn’t completely prevent vehicles from sliding on ice, but “it makes it a lot tougher,” Phelan said. “If the ice is bad enough or you try to do something outside the realm of physics, you can still slide. But it’s a huge help.”
He has test-driven cars with ESP on ice and racetracks. His verdict? “It comes as close as possible to making it impossible for you to screw up,” he said. “It really is a remarkable system.”A few years ago, he was driving a Mercedes-Benz in a nasty, late-night blizzard in the Detroit area. Not knowing that the car had the new technology, he marveled at how well it was handling.”The next day I was talking to somebody at Mercedes,” Phelan recalled. “I mentioned how well it handled on snow even without stability control, and the guy started laughing. He said, ‘We made it standard on all of our models.'”The technology accomplishes several things, he said. It monitors the antilock braking system and prevents it from locking up. Secondly, it provides traction control by sensing whether the wheels are spinning and reduces power to them if they are. Finally, sensors in the steering wheel allow the system to know if the wheel is pointed in one direction but the car is going a different way, which is what happens when a driver starts sliding out of control, Phelan said.
“It can selectively apply the brake on any one or two or all four of the wheels, so it kind of pulls you back into line,” he said. “If you’re spinning off to the right and you put a little bit of braking pressure on just the left front tire, that’ll snap you back into line. It’s a phenomenal system [that] just makes you a better driver.”Linn said some motorists experienced on slippery roads will not be interested in ESP. But others are “never really going to be comfortable driving on snow and ice. For those drivers, the safety systems [manufacturers] have come up with make their being out on the highway dramatically safer for everybody else.”I think it’s a great thing,” he said.For drivers and police.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org